An individual state champion. An individual state runner-up. A new best team in the Columbus area.
Those are the achievements highlighting the trio of top award winners on the Ledger-Enquirer’s 2019 All-Bi-City Wrestling Team, selected by local coaches and the L-E.
Jones went undefeated (43-0) during his senior season and finished his high school career (138-9) with a state title. He won the 120-pound Class AAAA weight class at the Georgia High School Association championships in the Macon Coliseum.
The final victory was the culmination of a journey for Jones — from not placing at state as a freshman, to missing the tournament as a sophomore because of a broken thumb, to placing third as a junior last year.
He is the lone local wrestler to win a state title this year.
“It feels great to be the only one,” he said, “but wrestling in Columbus is on the rise.”
After getting close to a championship in 2018, Jones figured, “I had more work to do, more mental work and getting my technique down pat. … I put in a lot more effort in training than I ever did because I felt I had something to prove.”
Now, he is mulling scholarship offers from a couple of Division I colleges, which he declined to name. Jones, however, willingly disclosed his career goal: He wants to become a math teacher.
“I just feel like numbers come easy to me,” he said. “I just feel like I can contribute to the world that way.”
And, yes, he wants to coach wrestling wherever he ends up teaching. Northside wrestling coach Matt Redmond, who teaches engineering and physics, expressed no doubt Jones will excel as a teacher and a coach.
“He’s a mature kid for a high-schooler,” Redmond said. “In the practice room, he’s all about the business of wrestling. He sets an example for others to really look at and say they want to be like him.”
Even as a freshman, the Northside wrestlers voted Jones as a captain. He remained humble despite his success, Redmond said.
“He’s not above picking up a wet towel and pushing it across the mat to clean it before practice,” Redmond said. “… A kid with that kind of record, a lot of them get all puffed up and don’t think they have to listen to their coach.”
In 11 years, Redmond said, Jones is the best wrestler he has coached.
Jones’ state title is the first one in wrestling in Northside’s 17-year history.
“It’s kind of like an explorer in the polar region,” Redmond said. “You’ve got to break the ice to get into the new territory. I think that’s what John did. He broke through a barrier and showed the other guys what’s possible.”
If you win 63 straight matches during your senior season and reach the state championship round, it’s understandable if you feel crushed to not win the title you sought, especially if it’s the third third time in four years you came up short in the final.
But after losing 6-5 in the 145-pound Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 7A final to Stone Barden (33-1) of Hewitt-Trussville, Kauffman insists he left the Von Braun Center in Huntsville without regrets and with the same positive outlook he had when he entered.
“It was heartbreaking, but to go undefeated all year doesn’t mean anything in the postseason,” he said. “Anything can happen. … I still feel like I had a great season, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Kauffman didn’t always handle himself in a way that earns respect.
“Sometimes I used to show my tail,” he said. “When I lost, I’d kind of act out. … Some kids will beat a kid real bad and showboat. I remember when I was that kid.”
Since seventh grade, Kauffman won his weight class six straight times in the Columbus city tournament. His career record in high school is 342-35.
Kauffman lost in the state final as a freshman and junior. As a sophomore, he lost in the semifinals to an opponent he had beaten. Trying to cut weight while battling strep throat took too much strength out of him, he said..
But he is used to taking on challenges many would decline. After all, Kauffman drives 2½ hours to Birmingham or 2 hours to McDonough most days to train with the highest-caliber wrestlers he can find.
“I couldn’t ask for better partners,” he said. “They make me a better person. You have to have some sort of structure in your life, and this is mine.”
Kauffman plans to attend Southeastern University, an NAIA college in Lakeland, Fla., where he will wrestle and study pre-med. He wants to be an orthopedic surgeon.
Central coach Rob Morales praised Kauffman’s work ethic.
“He’s a great kid, great personality, but he’s kind of stubborn,” Morales said. “He sets his mind to something, he’s going to see those things through, even at a personal cost, not being able to hang out with friends. But those are the things that make him special. He’s dedicated. He’s motivated.”
Harris County won the team title during the 2019 Columbus city wrestling championships. It was only the second time in the event’s 24-year history that the Tigers took home the first-place trophy. The other time was in 2013.
Among the four Columbus area teams that qualified for the GHSA 2019 state duals championships, Harris County was the only one to win more than one round. In the 16-team Class AAAAA tournament, the Tigers beat Decatur 51-29 then lost to defending state champion and eventual runner-up Buford 56-15. In the losers bracket, the Tigers beat Walnut Grove 47-33 then lost to Locust Grove 38-28.
It was Harris County’s third straight trip to the state duals — the only times in school history. The Tigers (31-5) finished this past season with their most dual wins in the program’s history.
Moore also helped seven Harris County wrestlers qualify for the individual state tournament, including sophomore Samantha Scarbrough, who was among the eight local girls in the first state tournament for them.
Harris County was the local team with the most wrestlers who finished in their weight class’ top four at the state tournament. Those three Tigers are Scarbrough (third at 126 pounds in the girls bracket) and two boys in Class AAAAA: sophomore Grant Monroe (third at 132) and freshman Garrett Wood (fourth at 126).
Moore credits his assistant coaches — Nathan Kinsaul, David Monroe, Gary Zeurner and Jon Johnson — for helping him grow the program from six to 68 wrestlers (35 varsity) in his five seasons as head coach.
“Our coaches did a great job of recruiting in the hallways and getting kids out who might be too small for other sports,” Moore said, “but maybe they haven’t been asked to be part of something greater than themselves and to represent their school.”
Now, having only five seniors in the usual 14-wrestler lineup this past season, Moore expects more from the Tigers next year. The goals are to win their area championship and place as a team at state duals.
“The senior class was a big part of growing wrestling in the county and making it important,” he said. “They’re leaving a lasting legacy from here on out.”
One of those remaining Tigers, sophomore David Emfinger III, is grateful Moore has led them to this level.
“He’s very reliable, and he has trust in his wrestlers that we’ll go out and get the job done,” said Emfinger, the 2019 first-team All-Bi-City wrestler at 170 pounds. “He has no problem pushing us even when we think we have nothing left. That helps us break through the wall and get better.”
Emfinger noted how Moore has generated buy-in from his wrestlers.
“The love he has for the team, it rubs off on us,” he said. “We just feel like it’s our job in high school to wrestle for him and give everything we’ve got. He’s there for us when we win or lose.”
LEDGER-ENQUIRER 2019 ALL-BI-CITY WRESTLING TEAM
The L-E thanks Muscogee County School District athletics director Jeff Battles for coordinating the selection process. Coaches at each high school in the Columbus area were invited to nominate students and coaches. Then coaches discussed the nominations and voted on the selections.
Co-Wrestlers of the Year: Northside senior John Jones (120 pounds) and Central senior Maxwell Kauffman (145).
Coach of the Year: Alex Moore of Harris County.
First team: 106 Harris County freshman Oran Decker; 113 Spencer sophomore Malik Hardy; 120 Harris County sophomore Tucker Kinsaul; 126 Northside sophomore Sam Bowers; 132 Harris County sophomore Grant Monroe; 138 Columbus junior Robert Mulvany; 145 Smiths Station junior Dakota Leon; 152 Northside senior Courtland Staples; 160 Harris County senior Maverick Crownhart-Swan; 170 Harris County sophomore David Emfinger III; 182 Smiths station junior Nick Derdoski; 195 Spencer senior Amani Byrd; 220 Smiths Station freshman Kyle Watson; 285 Spencer senior Micah Butler.
Second team: 106 Columbus sophomore Sean Mulvany; 113 Columbus junior Austin Bell; 120 Smiths Station junior Tony Batiz; 126 Harris County freshman Garrett Wood; 132 Smiths Station eighth-grader Devin Stone; 138 Northside senior Josh Bowers; 145 Jordan senior Tyler Simmons; 152 Columbus freshman Ryan Bithorn; 160 Jordan senior Darius Stokes and Spencer senior Karlton Williams; 170 Columbus senior Marcelous Bankston and Smiths Station junior Alex Fouts; 182 Harris County senior Cohen Perry; 195 Harris County senior Isaiah Bolin; 220 Spencer freshman Caleb Jones; 285 Jordan senior DeMerious Riggins.
Honorable mention: 106 Spencer senior Thomas Hardy; 113 Northside junior Denias Johnson and Smiths Station junior Conner Prins; 120 Columbus senior Charles Douglas; 126 Smiths Station junior Levi Fouts; 132 Russell County senior Cameron Oglesby and Shaw senior Noah Davenport; 138 Smiths Station senior Isaac Arnett, Spencer senior Nick Harris and Pacelli junior Noah Nugent; 145 Northside sophomore Jaxon Price and Kendrick senior Oscar Maxwell; 152 Smiths Station sophomore Anthony Dunn, Spencer sophomore Maurice Mahone and Harris County junior Jacob Schrenk; 160 Smiths Station sophomore A.J. Soto and Hardaway senior D.J. Schmeling; 170 Jordan senior DeQuandre Sullivan; 182 Russell County junior Cole Danielson and Spencer sophomore Tyrone Wright; 195 Smiths Station senior Jason Williams; 220 Russell County senior Izzac Steinruck and Harris County senior Chris Hardaway; 285 Russell County senior Larry Upshaw, Brookstone sophomore Wesley Brown and Chattahoochee County senior Kendrick Harvey.
Girls team: 106 Hardaway freshman Olivia Floyd; 126 Harris County sophomore Samantha Scarbrough and Jordan freshman Laquitta Smith; 146 Jordan senior T’Keya Hill; 156 Chattahoochee County junior Lia Onstine; 176 Columbus senior Jadakiss Grant; 225 Marion County sophomore Sarah Underwood..
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.